Making connections in the UAS world

By Patrick C. Miller | December 22, 2016

How do you get a retired U.S. Air Force three-star general to become part of your unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) business? You go to events to make connections and you make sure your company’s name has a solid reputation behind it.

Last week, SkySkopes announced that retired Lt. Gen. Vern “Rusty” Findley was joining its team as a senior consultant for business development. Findley is a former vice commander of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.

Matt Dunlevy, CEO of the UAS startup located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, explained the value of Findley’s involvement with SkySkopes.

“We’re trying to scale up nationally and he has national networks. He has national and international credibility,” Dunlevy said of Findley. “He’s willing to open doors for us and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us when we try to lock down new contracts and partner with new companies. It makes a world of difference when we have a retired three-star general sitting next to us and we’re trying to make things happen.”

As you might expect, there’s more to the story than simply reaching out to a retired general and asking for his assistance. It started 10 years ago when Dunlevy was a student at the University of North Dakota (UND). He grew accustomed to seeing Findley’s picture hanging on the wall among the university’s distinguished alumni.

Findley had connections to UND and the Grand Forks area. As a young Air Force tanker navigator, he was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base from 1978 to 1981. He earned an MBA from UND and returned to Grand Forks in 1999 to serve as base commander.

But the partnership between Findley and SkySkopes might never have happened if not for Dunlevy’s efforts to get the company noticed and get it exposure at UAS events. Avid UAS Magazine readers might recall that SkySkopes and Dunlevy were the subjects of our third quarter cover feature.

Last August, SkySkopes was an exhibitor at the 10th Annual UAS Summit & Expo in Grand Forks. Dunlevy was also a speaker at the event. While manning the SkySkopes booth in the expo hall, Dunlevy saw a familiar face pass by, which caused him to blurt out, “It’s Gen. Rusty Findley!”

That got Findley’s attention. He and Dunlevy had a conversation, exchanged business cards and later exchanged emails. Beyond the chance encounter, Dunlevy said that what convinced Findley to join SkySkopes was the story he read about the company in UAS Magazine.

“Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of kids running around,” Dunlevy explained. “What legitimized us and convinced him to join our team was that story.”

As someone who spent more than 25 years in the public relations and media relations field before joining UAS Magazine, one of my mantras became: What you say about yourself isn’t as important as what others say about you.

In this case, Dunlevy’s efforts to put SkySkopes in position to make key contacts was further leveraged through his media relations efforts. It all paid off. Dunlevy has big plans for SkySkopes, and it’s likely the relationship formed with Findley will pay dividends going forward.

“With the government side of contracts, it’s important to have someone like him working for us,” Dunlevy said. “He has a network and ideas of where to go next, how to refine our business model and how to stay scalable while continuing to fly safe.”

Dunlevy just completed his first semester of teaching a UAS business course at UND. Its success has spawned additional education opportunities for would-be UAS entrepreneurs and future UAS pilots. SkySkopes is opening an office in Minot, North Dakota, which will put it closer to the Air Force base in that city, as well as the oil and gas industry looking to employ drones in the western part of the state.

The experience has reinforced what Dunlevy already knew. Good contacts and good communications are a critical part of doing business in the UAS industry.